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Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (8) – Francis Smallwood’s Fourth Response

My neo-Darwinian friend, Francis Smallwood, has now written a response to my previous instalment in our dialogue. If you want to read it, go here. Below is a small excerpt of the response by Francis. You can read his full response by going to his blog. Follow the link at the bottom of the page.

I think that his latest reply is considerably better than his previous writings. Over the past year or so his critique of ID has become sharper and more substantive, and I think he makes some very good points. I still happen to think he is largely mistaken though. It is well worth engaging with this one, so please do discuss some of his points either below or at his blog. Please try and keep on topic and attempt to engage with the content of his critique. I’m working on a reply this very moment.

Debating Darwin and Design


Is Intelligent Design science or ‘creationism in a cheap tuxedo’?

8th November 2013

Francis Smallwood - Fourth response

I am delighted that Joshua and I have resumed our dialogue after an unwittingly protracted hiatus of some twenty months. Whilst we were both fairly appalled by the length of time which has elapsed since our last responses, the intermission has allowed us to think, read and talk more and so we shall (hopefully) be clearer now on a few matters. My own views have changed and developed regarding certain issues, and I hope to be able to offer some more cogent and substantive arguments than some of those I have previously propounded. I look forward to continuing this interesting and multifarious debate with Joshua, a great friend, uniting as it does ‘the two greatest and purest pleasures of human life, study and society.’[1]

Introduction and overview

When Joshua and I were planning this discussion we decided that we would begin with the question with which we are currently concerned, a question which attracts a great deal of attention in the debate over ID, even though it is not the case that ID must be science or creationism as it could be neither. Joshua considered that ‘Perhaps we have gone about this discussion the wrong way round, choosing to debate the classification of ID before the merits of ID,’ adding, ‘I don’t see that it really matters.’[2] I am inclined to think that it does matter, as in asking whether or not ID is science we are presupposing that we know what claims ID makes, which I shall argue we do not. As Sahotra Sarkar remarks, ‘before we can fruitfully discuss whether ID is science or not, we need a positive account of what design and intelligence are.’[3] ID theorists have so far failed to provide such an account.

In Joshua’s previous response he helpfully précised the discussion so far and enumerated seven ‘lines of attack’ taken by critics of ID to argue that it is not science. I shall reproduce Joshua’s list here for convenience:

  1. By showing that design and creation, as concepts, are necessarily synonymous.
  2. By showing that, historically, ID emerged from the same source as creationism.
  3. By bringing up the infamous Dover trial.
  4. By showing that ID proponents are religiously motivated.
  5. By showing that ID theorists don’t publish their work in peer-reviewed journals.
  6. By showing that methodological naturalism (MN) is an essential part of science. This includes the prohibition of supernatural causation. ID necessarily has theological implications and thus violates the principle of MN.
  7. By showing that ID doesn’t follow ‘the scientific method’ and is neither falsifiable nor verifiable.

Of these, I do not believe that (1) through (5) offer legitimate means of denying ID scientific status, although, regarding (5), if ID represents the scientific breakthrough which its proponents claim it does, then it is surely surprising that the majority of the scientific community should have failed to appreciate its import and treated the theory with such manifest disdain. Regarding (6), methodological naturalism (the view that when doing science we should seek only explanations which refer to natural, law-governed causes), I shall argue, is essential to modern science. Inasmuch as ID flouts this principle, it is at variance with the rest of modern science, giving us a reason to deny that ID is science. Regarding (7), whilst there is an undeniable difference between science and other modes of inquiry (e.g., history, philosophy, theology, etc.) a successful demarcation criterion has—and not for want of effort—so far eluded philosophers of science. Both verifiability and falsifiability have been shown to be beset with problems and whilst testability is a stronger candidate criterion it is similarly problematic. I shall argue that, assuming that the notion of ‘intelligent design’ is intelligible (which I shall go on to argue that it is not), ID is untestable, contrary to the claims of ID theorists, since we lack auxiliary information about the goals and abilities of the designer which is required to conjoin with the design hypothesis to derive observational implications. I shall not, however, from this conclude that ID is not science since it is conceivable that this information may become available. One could not justifiably claim that this information could never become available without foreknowledge of future inquiry.

Please do pop over to his blog and read his response in full:



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4 Responses to Debating Darwin and Design: Science or Creationism? (8) – Francis Smallwood’s Fourth Response

  1. Stephen C. Meyer: Is intelligent design science? – video

  2. Joshua,

    Whether ID is science or not is a red herring issue. Some in the ID community are not exactly enthusiastic to defend the claim “ID is science”.

    Stephen Meyer:

    IMHO, you should be getting Francis to defend why evolutionary speculations qualify as science. You are letting him turn the table in the debate and define the terms of engagement.

    The way to engage someone like that:

    1. the real question is whether ID is closer to the truth than mindless evolution not whether ID is science or not

    2. Darwinism and evolutionary biology fail as scientific theories based on self-contradiction and evidence, therefore on its own terms it is false

    3. since Darwinism and evolutionary biology fail on their own terms, unless both evolutionary biology and ID are false (maybe some 3rd way), then ID by default is closer to the truth. No point in going down dead ends of looking for square circles in Euclidean geometry — evolutionary biology is like the search for perpetual motion machines and square circles.

    Hammer the evidence, hammer the chemistry, hammer the science — minimize the discussion of philosophy of science and questions about how truth is arrived at.

    You can even assume for the sake of argument ID is false, it does not make the current claims of evolutionary biology and OOL true by any means. If the current claims are false why should there even be a dilemma choosing ID vs. evolution. This is like choosing ID vs. the claim square circles exist. The debate is moot if square circles don’t exist. Argue for the mootness of the question. It’s moot if evolutionism is false. I’d argue that!

    Otherwise, I think Francis will have a good chance of scoring a draw in this debate or even winning it. You let him put you on the defensive by even allowing a debate over whether ID is true or not, when the real debate is whether evolutionism is true or not. If evolutionism is false, there is not point in debating ID or evolutionism. Evolutionism is off the table by default. Whether ID is true, is then a separate question.

  3. As far as ID having creationist roots, that is irrelevant to the truthfulness of its claims.

    One of the first laws of physics, Kepler’s celestial mechanics, arose out of Kepler’s practice of astrology.

    Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Kerry Maulis believes in astrology. It shouldn’t detract from his science.

    Another Nobel Laureate in physics believes in the paranormal, it should detract from his sience.

    The “creationism in a cheap tuxedo” is another red herring. The appropriate answer, is “so what, evolutionism fails as a scientific theory, doesn’t matter if creationists are the ones to point the facts.”

  4. Joshua G,

    Don’t let Francis implicitly get away with the suggestion that evolutionism is science. It is not. It does not have the elements of science by Francis own criteria.

    Evidence that integrated functional complexity increases on average from lab or field observations. Ask francis how many new proteins are evolving today. Ask him what beneficial mutation found in humans today will be part of all humans someday. Why is that relevant? If you can’t even say that of proteins or traits today, why, on scientific grounds can we rely on evolutionary claims of the past. Evolutionists pretend they have a scientific theory but it fails the testability criteria.

    You will easily find more things that are wrong with evolutionism.

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